You've likely seen projections, including one from this blogger, than Dallas can create as much as $25 million or more in cap space by restructuring some of their high-dollar veteran contracts. That sounds very attractive on the surface, especially for a team that has spent several years being forced into frugality by past spending sins. There is no question that Dallas will do some restructuring, but perhaps they need a little more balanced view than what others have suggested.
One player that is guaranteed to have his deal reworked, and rightly so, is left tackle Tyron Smith. He is still just 25-years-old and one of the best in the business; a fixture at his spot for as long as he's healthy. Dallas will certainly move money on Smith's contract and have absolutely no reason not to.
Beyond Smith there is at least one red flag on any of the remaining restructure candidates. Let's look at those in more detail and see if the added cap room is worth the additional commitment and risk involved.
The next most likely to be restructured is defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford. He has five years left on a $45 million contract and is still just 26. The red flag on Crawford is that his performance dropped off in 2015 after getting the new deal. He had five sacks despite being the full-time starter. Comparatively, Henry Melton had five sacks in 2014 despite starting just three games and dealing with injuries. It was assumed that Crawford would blossom as the three-technique tackle in Rod Marinelli's scheme and fell woefully short of expectations.
Dallas is likely going to bank on their original analysis of Crawford and hope that improvements at defensive end and in the secondary will open up his game. However, if they have any concerns about Crawford, restructuring his deal could only prolong the mistake. Next year he counts $9 million against the cap and only creates $6 million in dead money if released, which can be spread over two years. Dallas has a decent escape there if they want to preserve it, but I anticipate that they will double down on Crawford and focus on improving the talent around him.
Let's now take a look at Dez Bryant's contract. No sooner does he sign the big extension than does Bryant suffer an injury-plagued season. Turning 28 in November, Bryant's physical style of play means he may not have the longevity of some receivers. Could Dallas be worried about still paying Dez franchise-player money if he can't stay healthy? Do they want to preserve the option to cut ties if needed?
Dez will count about $16 million against Dallas' cap in 2018 and 2019. As currently structured, Dallas can cut him with $8 million in dead money in 2018 and just $4 million in 2019, when he'll be 30-years-old. I could see Dallas opting to leave Dez's contract untouched this year so they can how well he bounces back next season. If he's back to franchise form then they can use it to create space for the 2017 offseason. If not, then they've kept their options open.
Jason Witten has two years left on his deal. It's hard to see a scenario where Dallas doesn't let Witten play out that contract, so I could see them pushing all of his guaranteed money into 2017 to create about $4 million in space for this offseason. His age is a slight concern but Witten has been freakishly durable and the Cowboys likely won't be worried about committing to him for two more seasons.
Sean Lee is an intriguing case. He has four years left on his deal and a lot of wiggle room to clear cap space. However, Lee's awful history with injuries is a major deterrent for Dallas. Though he's coming off a fabulous 2015 performance, a return of health problems for Lee could push Dallas to release him next offseason. They would only be liable for $3.9 million in dead money off of a $9.9 million cap hit, giving them significant savings and letting them move on at a key defensive position.
I think Dallas will take the same approach with Lee that I said with Dez, seeing how 2016 plays out before making any contract changes. If Lee can put together back-to-back seasons of good health and Pro Bowl play then the Cowboys will have a lot more confidence to pull the trigger on a restructure, but even then you couldn't blame them for lingering hesitation.
Lastly, we have to take a look at Tony Romo's contract. Romo is signed through 2019 and Jerry Jones is happy to tell you that they think Romo has many good years left in him. There's no chance that he'll back that up by redoing Romo's deal, though, until they see how he comes back from the 2015 injuries.
Even as it stands Dallas is probably stuck with Romo's contract until at least the 2018 offseason. At that point the dead money drops to just $8.9 million (compared to $19.6 million in 2017) and they can find a way to stomach that if needed. How will two more seasons affect Romo's body, one that already seems to be breaking down? Dallas will have to find out the hard way and can't afford to prolong the suffering.
Today's Cowboys, with Jason Garrett, Stephen Jones, and Will McClay holding more influence than past staffs of Jerry Jones', are more fiscally responsible and big picture oriented than in the past. A past front office probably jumps at the chance to clear all this money and go hard in free agency, looking to maximize the current window of opportunity. Given the age and health concerns of some of the players we just mentioned there is certainly temptation to go that route now.
My best projections are that we will see restructures on Tyron Smith, Tyrone Crawford, and Jason Witten. I'm on the fence about Dez Bryant and can really see them going either way. I wouldn't expect it with Sean Lee and am entirely sure they won't do anything with Romo.
Dallas has learned the hard way about mortgaging the future to try and win in the present. It worked in the 1990s but has cost them dearly at a few points since. They have the potential to make a smooth transition from the Romo-Witten Era to the next generation with a solid infrastructure. They need to leave themselves financially flexible to keep their young players around for the next quarterback whenever he takes over, or to keep the talent around Romo strong enough that perhaps he could pull of a late-career championship like we just saw from Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
No matter what the endgame is for Romo, Dallas should maintain the same financial philosophy; stay balanced and avoid as many long-term entanglements as you can. Some players, like Tyron Smith, are worth that kind of commitment. But how many times have we seen teams, and the Cowboys especially, burned by being overly loyal? There's a reason that the Patriots stay in contention (aside from the cheating) and it's because they never put loyalty to one player over their long-term goals and financial outlook.
The last few years make it seem that Dallas is on that course. The hard part, especially as desperation creeps in, is to stay on it.
Cowboys Will Tag DeMarcus Lawrence; What’s the Plan?
February 20 is an important day for NFL clubs this year. Why? It's the first day in which teams can franchise tag any player. Since 2015, when the Dallas Cowboys tagged Dez Bryant before they were able to work out a long-term deal, Jerry Jones & Co. haven't used the franchise tag. In 2018, though, that will change.
DeMarcus Lawrence just played his best season yet in 2017, and he's looking to get paid big time. Through three years, he had been able to rack up nine sacks, 52 tackles and three forced fumbles. In just 2017, he sacked opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times, had 35 tackles and managed to force four fumbles.
Not only did Lawrence look like an elite pass rusher, but he also improved as a run defender a lot. The Cowboys have been looking for a "War Daddy" for a long, long time and Lawrence seems to be the answer for this football team.
After such a big year, one would expect the Cowboys to sign him to a multi-year enormous contract. But there's a catch. Lawrence failed to remain healthy early in his career and really didn't make as much of an impact until last season.
There's no question that D-Law will be wearing a star come the 2018 NFL season, but will he be doing it under a long-term deal or under a franchise tag?
Cowboys will not place franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence tomorrow as that window opens but will do so by March 6 w/ understanding the goal is to reach a long-term deal. Both sides have until July 16 to make that happen.
For now, according to David Moore from Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys will franchise tag Lawrence with the objective of getting a deal done in July. The tag however, is not expected to be placed as soon as possible.
In 2015, the Cowboys didn't place the franchise tag on Dez Bryant until the final deadline day. This year's deadline is March 6th, so it may be two weeks before they make it official with DeMarcus Lawrence. #CowboysNation #DallasCowboys
What would franchise tagging DeMarcus Lawrence mean for this team?
First of all, they'd make sure he doesn't hit free agency in March. This gives the front office time to get to work and restructure players' contracts if they have to in order to open up as much cap space as they can before giving him a deal.
It's worth mentioning as well, cap savings from players who are designated as post-June 1 cuts will already be available. If you want to be more familiarized with the Cowboys' cap situation, I highly recommend you read John Williams' deep dive on the matter.
It'll continue to be a very interesting story for this offseason, as handing a franchise tag to a player tends to become a non-friendly situation for both parties. Let's hope that's not the case for the Cowboys and Lawrence this year and that everything works out fine.
Here at Inside The Star, we'll continue updating you and the rest of Cowboys Nation throughout the offseason.
Watch: Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Goes Bowling for First Time Since College Injury
Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Jaylon Smith did not just defy all odds and return to normalcy in 2017, starting as the Cowboys' middle linebacker for a full 16 games. He became one of the team's and NFL's brightest success stories, earning the right to celebrate everyday activities returning to his life - as football did this season.
This is exactly what Jaylon Smith did on Twitter Friday afternoon, posting a Snapchat video of himself bowling. The caption on Twitter adds that Smith was enjoying his time at the lanes for the first time in two years.
It was January 1st, 2016 when Jaylon Smith's injury in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame changed his outlook forever. In that moment, Smith went from a projected top ten pick in the 2016 NFL Draft to a LB that would need a team to take a chance on him - and be patient.
The Dallas Cowboys proved to be that team, using the 34th overall pick on the Notre Dame star and supporting his efforts to return to the field from day one. The entire Cowboys' organization was rewarded by Smith remarkably playing every game this season, inspired by his constant determination to do just that.
So, a normal offseason for Jaylon Smith is anything but right now. Still battling the drop foot condition (one that is reportedly healing well and "fading") which limits his movement ability in the lower body, Smith is a normal Dallas Cowboys football player from this point forward.
He can say he's already defined all odds, can expect to take an even bigger stride forward in 2018, and Jaylon Smith can go bowling again. You can't help but be happy for #54.
Dak Prescott’s Accuracy Stands Out in Final 2017 Stats
2017 was a season that left the Dallas Cowboys with a ton of questions to think about. Dez Bryant's contract, Sean Lee and Tyron Smith's availability, and the future of DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving are some of those questions.
But there's another more pressing question for the Cowboys. How can they get the most out of Quarterback Dak Prescott and avoid another struggling year for him?
Also, what if he has another rough year? At what point does quarterback become a position that needs to be evaluated if he continues to struggle?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that will be the case. In fact, I have a lot of faith in Dak. I think he's shown a lot to be excited about and I definitely believe there's a "quarterback curve" in the NFL. Hopefully, #4 finds a way to get back on track in 2018.
A reason to be optimistic about Prescott's future is an impressive stat from NFL Next Gen Stats. Turns out, Dak Prescott ranked first in the NFL in "tight window throws" completion percentage with 45.8%.
According to Matt Harmon from NFL.com, a "tight window throw" is defined as a pass in which the intended receiver has less than a yard of separation from the defender.
Dak Prescott is far from a perfect quarterback and he's constantly bashed about his throwing accuracy. Just recently, he took part in a passing competition with David Carr before the NFL Honors and well... it's fair to say Carr completely beat him.
David Carr 6, Dak Prescott 1 pic.twitter.com/rV532Q3Cob
— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) 6 de febrero de 2018
Cowboys Twitter was anything but forgiving for the young quarterback, but at the end of the day, I'm not sure a casual passing competition at an event like that one is the way you judge an NFL starting quarterback who has a 22-10 record in his career.
Dak has a long way to go before being considered an excellent quarterback in the league, but a bad season like 2017 doesn't mean it's the end of his career and that the Dallas Cowboys should start Cooper Rush over him.
It's not the first quarterback who struggles one year and he won't be the last one to bounce back from one. As of right now, Dak Prescott rightfully is the Dallas Cowboys QB1. Hopefully he has a better year next season.
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